Lewis Hamilton said reaching 100 pole positions would be the icing on the cake of an “incredible year”.
Hamilton moved to within two of the landmark after scoring his 10th pole of the season for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix following the fastest lap ever recorded under the 495 bulbs that light up the Sakhir Circuit.
The seven-time world champion finished 0.289 seconds clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull.
Hamilton galloped to the title which drew him level with Michael Schumacher in Turkey a fortnight ago. But over one lap, Hamilton is the sport’s undisputed master.
His 98th pole puts him on track to complete his century before the end of the year ahead of another race in Bahrain next Sunday before the season finale in Abu Dhabi on December 13.
It also took the Briton a staggering 30 poles clear of Schumacher on the all-time list, and 33 ahead of his childhood hero Ayrton Senna.
“It has been such an incredible year that anything from now is just an added bonus,” said Hamilton, 35, on the potential of raising his qualifying bat before the year’s close.
“I really didn’t celebrate winning the title to be honest, because I was training and trying to make sure I was ready for this race, and keeping my mind and eye on the ball.
“You know I came today and I was like, ‘let’s just have fun and enjoy it’, and that’s the most important thing, to enjoy what you’re doing. And with the pressure a little bit off, it’s a bit of a release to go and drive like I just did.”
With the title in the bag, Hamilton has shown few signs of taking his foot off the throttle in the desert, topping two of the three practice sessions before going fastest in Q1, Q2 and then securing yet another pole against his weary opposition.
Hamilton has already won 10 of the 14 races staged in this Covid-disturbed calendar and such is the unstoppable nature of the Englishman and his all-conquering Mercedes team – indeed, this marked their 11th front-row lockout – Hamilton is the overwhelming favourite to take win number 11 on Sunday.
Last year, a Ferrari finished fastest in all of the practice sessions and qualifying at this venue, but such is the miserable demise of the Scuderia that both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc failed to make it into the top 10.
Vettel is entering the final weeks of his Ferrari career before he moves to Racing Point, rebranded as Aston Martin, in 2021.
The quadruple world champion qualified 11th, one spot ahead of team-mate Leclerc. The Italian team rank a miserable sixth of 10 in the constructors’ standings, an eye-watering 374 points behind Mercedes.
Lance Stroll sprung one of the biggest surprises in recent F1 memory by claiming his maiden career pole at the last round.
But the Canadian was brought back down to earth here. He will line up 13th, sharing the same row as George Russell after the young Briton preserved his unblemished qualifying record against his Williams team-mates.
Russell’s streak now stands at a combined 36-0 against Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi – whom he was the best part of one second quicker than on Saturday.
Russell’s unbeatable run sees him match a tally set by triple world champion Nelson Piquet between the 1979 Italian and 1982 Belgian Grands Prix. Only Michael Schumacher (56) and Ayrton Senna (44) have beaten their team-mates on a greater number of consecutive occasions over one lap.